Hunt or be hunted. Kill or be killed. Be the prey or be the predator.
This is the choice to be made every time someone faces down the Predators. Throughout the films, the heroes had to stand up to their conquerors, and look at them in their ugly faces. Major Dutch did that in 1987 and so did Lieutenant Harrigan in 1990. The wildly underrated “Predators” saw a group of criminals do that… on another planet! And yes, that’s it. We don’t talk about the others.
Now, with “Prey”, it’s time to travel back to the past to witness the (first) hunt.
Set within the backdrop of America in the late 18th century, the main narrative circles around a female member of a Comanche tribe named Naru (Amber Midthunder). Along with her trusty dog, Saari, she has learned the ways of hunting.
Despite her sensibilities for such, she’s often seen as a lesser being by her tribe. The only person who maintains faith in her abilities is her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Taabe is always encouraging her to be better but maintains a certain caution over her drive. Nevertheless, he does boost her ambition to set out for her “kuhtaamia” – her big hunt.
Meanwhile, over the horizon, flashes of lightning and a red sizzle gather. A new threat sets afoot on Earthian soil. Bulking, lethal, but most of all, terrifying, this new Yautja is hooded with a carved cranium in the stead of the usual metallic bio-helmet. It’s a neat little change-up considering that it is being set two centuries prior, showing that the Predators are not technologically the same throughout the generations. This is a different time and a different beast altogether.
With a concern for the safety of her tribe, along with the overwhelming desire to prove herself, Naru sets out to hunt down this shadowy figure. Nevertheless, she knows that this will be unlike anything she or humanity has ever faced, as she notes the abnormal footprints in the mud. No, this isn’t just a wolf or a bear. This is the Feral Predator.
The film’s visual language does wonders by moving up the food chain. The Predator does not merely land on Earth while someone comes up to him and goes “Hey, how’s it going, dude. My name’s Dave” and they subsequently proceed to fight to their deaths. No, instead, the Predator observes and waits for the biggest fish to arrive. It’s a gradual rise to get to the top.
We do admit that we as the audience have been cursed with knowledge. We know how these Predators move about, that they hunt the strongest there is. As such, there is little to no room for the element of surprise when mapping out the film’s journey from the start. Nevertheless, this is just a minor point we’re picking on.
“Prey” takes pride in its less-is-more approach, opting for the beast to stalk around in its cloaked form for most of the film. The subsequent outings after the 87′ original decided to show the gnarly fangs and yellow eyes somewhat early on, which is a different strategy but can sometimes be a little off-putting. However, stalking an invisible creature for two-thirds of the film will make nerves shake as they wouldn’t know who they are up against.
Undoubtedly, Prey’s” inherent value lies in its ability to showcase the underdog journey. It’s this sort of timeless storytelling that allows for both narrative and horror-induced tensions to continually rise and get their cathartic releases to good effect. Amber Midthunder, who has been outstanding since “Legion”, brings out her A-game here, breathing tension and fallacies into the character of Naru.
As we follow Naru through her journey, it is only fitting that she falls many times, gets captured, or is knocked out to display her lack of skill. We witness her getting scared when she is in the presence of the Predator for the first time.
However, she learns from these mistakes, observing and combining her self-taught sensibilities as a hunter to survive the trials that come her way. As she upgrades her weapons, she gets ready for her great hunt.
Naru’s relationship with her brother is pivotal in the journey as he leads her on the path to surviving and ultimately triumph. Taabe and Naru both have mutual respect for one another, as they both know what they are capable of. Even as the situation becomes direr and direr, the bond they have allows them to spurt forward in facing down that beast.
It’s great that they’re exploring the Predator franchise in this manner with a talented filmmaker like Trachtenberg. Seriously, the dude has so much to offer in terms of building up sci-fi thrills. With “10 Cloverfield Lane” and now “Prey”, it would be interesting to see what other pitches he has for other sci-fi franchises. Maybe a scaled-back, character study set in the “Species” universe or even “Edge of Tomorrow”?
Now, moving forward, there could be potential in exploring other eras while still maintaining the mystery of the species. This movie has proven once again that the less-is-more approach still works for the Predator. Perhaps an era like Imperial Japan would be interesting to explore as it could also delve into the code of honour of the Yautja as well. Nevertheless, we do wish that a “Predators”-like twist could also be done to shake things up as well.
Let’s just relish in the fact that the Predator has gone back to its roots and it’s all the better for it!
“Prey” is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
"Prey" is a solid entry in the "Predator" mythos, one that harkens back to its roots and is ultimately nuanced by its underdog tale.